Railfest highlights Hagerstown's history as a railroad town

October 25, 2008|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Susan Happel recalled a girlhood trip aboard a steam engine to Nebraska from Warren, Ohio, during World War II. There were soldiers on board.

"There was no air conditioning. It was hot," she said. "When you'd go around the bend, you could see the smoke pouring outside the windows. You could feel the train rocking and rolling on the tracks going 'ch-ch-ch-ch.' It was so exciting."

At night, when she slept in a bunk with her mother, Happel would peek through the blinds at the passing lights.

Happel, 67, of Highland, Mich., spoke amid the close, dark green interior walls of a red caboose Saturday at Railfest at the Hagerstown Railroad Museum. She and her husband, Herb Happel, also 67, went to the museum with her stepson, Jason Happel, 38, of Hagerstown, and his wife and three children.


Herb Happel remembered seeing working steam engines on Long Island, N.Y., as a boy.

"This was a real part of history. People worked here. You can stand here and almost feel the activity of the workers, the things they were saying and doing. You can just feel the presence," Herb Happel said. "I'm hoping people who have never seen or experienced a working steam engine can experience it. They should be able to see it working."

Bob Tracey, caretaker at the museum, has the same dream. Tracey said the museum hopes to restore Locomotive 202, the museum's main attraction, to working condition by 2012, when the train will be 100 years old. Meanwhile, Tracey said Railfest and the museum seek to continue highlighting Hagerstown's history as a railroad community.

"In the 1900s, there were five railroads running through here. Hagerstown was nicknamed the Hub City of transportation," Tracey said. "Here in 2008, we still have four railroads running through."

Tracey said rising fuel costs have driven an increase in railroad traffic as businesses seek the cost-effectiveness of transporting goods by rail rather than truck.

In addition to museum standards including cabooses, Steam Engine 202, and memorabilia, Railfest featured the live music of Banjo Man Jim Haner; a model train raffle; an H0-gauge train layout; and a rideable Thomas the Tank Engine and train-related coloring pages for children. A planned outdoor garden railroad display was not set up because of the rainy weather, but Tracey said he planned to have it up and running Sunday for the second day of Railfest.

Kate Bonberger, 63, of Boonsboro, and her 7-year-old grandson, Kai Bonberger, also of Boonsboro, said they were excited by the hands-on nature of Railfest tours.

"We got to sit in the engineer's seat, and sit in the fireman's and brakeman's seat," Kate Bonberger said. "You cannot see from the engineer's seat. Now, I know why you see engineers hanging out the window all the time. You can't see the rails, you can't see anything. This is absolutely the most fabulous thing in the world."

Railfest is the museum's closing event for the 2008 season. The museum will reopen the first weekend of May 2009.

If you go

What: Railfest

When: Sunday, October 26, 1 to 5 p.m.

Where: Hagerstown Railroad Museum, City Park, Hagerstown

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